The real is­sue at Duke

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Thomas Sow­ell

In the wake of re­cent bomb­shell rev­e­la­tions in the Duke Univer­sity “rape” case, even some of Dis­trict At­tor­ney Michael Ni­fong’s sup­port­ers have started back­ing away from him.

It was not just that the head of a DNA lab­o­ra­tory tes­ti­fied un­der oath in De­cem­ber that he and Mr. Ni­fong both knew back in April that there was no DNA from any of the Duke Univer­sity lacrosse play­ers found on the body of the strip­per who ac­cused them of rape — or even that the DNA of other men was found in her un­der­wear and in in­ti­mate ar­eas of her body.

What was re­ally damn­ing was that he and Mr. Ni­fong had agreed to keep this fact se­cret, de­spite re­quire­ments that ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence be turned over to the de­fense. More­over, last May Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ni­fong filed a state­ment say­ing that the pros­e­cu­tion “is not aware of any ad­di­tional ma­te­rial or in­for­ma­tion which may be ex­cul­pa­tory in na­ture.”

But he al­ready knew what the DNA ev­i­dence was be­fore he signed that state­ment.

The lead­ing news­pa­per in town, which had sup­ported Mr. Ni­fong in its edi­to­ri­als be­fore th­ese new rev­e­la­tions, now called his ac­tions “flawed” and “in­ex­pli­ca­ble.”

Mr. Ni­fong’s ac­tions are in­ex­pli­ca­ble only if you as­sume that his pur­pose was to get at the truth about what ac­tu­ally hap­pened at the party where the strip­per claimed to have been raped.

That as­sump­tion has never been made in this col­umn. From day one, I have never be­lieved that this case was about rape, about the Duke lacrosse play­ers or about the “ex­otic dancers” or strip­pers.

Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ni­fong’s ac­tions are per­fectly con­sis­tent and log­i­cal from start to fin­ish, once you see that this case is about Mr. Ni­fong’s own ca­reer.

Let us go back to square one. Where was Mr. Ni­fong be­fore this case came along?

He had worked in the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice for years and was ap­pointed in­terim dis­trict at­tor­ney him­self only af­ter the pre­vi­ous dis­trict at­tor­ney left to be­come a judge. Now Mr. Ni­fong faced a tough elec­tion against a wo­man he had once fired and who would un­doubt­edly fire him if she be­came dis­trict at­tor­ney.

Where would that leave Mr. Ni­fong? Out on the street at an age when most peo­ple are not likely to be start­ing a new ca- reer. His pen­sion as well as his job could be in jeop­ardy. More­over, his op­po­nent was fa­vored to win the elec­tion.

Then along came the Duke Univer­sity “rape” case, like a de­liv­er­ance from heaven.

Po­lit­i­cally, the case had ev­ery­thing: white jocks from af­flu­ent fam­i­lies at a rich and pres­ti­gious univer­sity ver­sus a black wo­man who was a stu­dent at a far poorer and less dis­tin­guished black in­sti­tu­tion nearby.

Above all, there were black vot­ers who could swing the elec­tion Mr. Ni­fong’s way if he played the race card and con­jured up all the racial in­jus­tices of the past, which he would now vow to fight against in the present.

Who cared whose DNA was where? This case could save Mr. Ni­fong’s ca­reer. There was noth­ing “in­ex­pli­ca­ble” about what he did. De­spi­ca­ble yes, in­ex­pli­ca­ble no.

His in­flam­ma­tory out­bursts against the Duke stu­dents in the me­dia are not in­ex­pli­ca­ble. Nei­ther was his fail­ure to fol­low stan­dard pro­ce­dures in pre­sent­ing the ac­cuser with a lineup that in­cluded only white Duke lacrosse play­ers.

The stan­dard pro­ce­dure of in­clud­ing in a lineup peo­ple who are not sus­pects in the case is in­tended to test the ac­cuser’s cred­i­bil­ity. But why would he risk hav­ing the ac­cuser’s cred­i­bil­ity tested be­fore his elec­tion?

It was not a ques­tion of win­ning the case. It was a ques­tion of win­ning the elec­tion. As for the case, that was not sched­uled to come to trial un­til a year later.

If you cared about jus­tice, you would want to go to trial much sooner, ei­ther to nail the Duke stu­dents if they were guilty or ex­on­er­ate them if they were not. But noth­ing sug­gests that this was Mr. Ni­fong’s agenda.

Now that so many of his mis­deeds have been so widely pub­li­cized, Mr. Ni­fong’s agenda has to in­clude keep­ing his job and avoid­ing dis­bar­ment or even be­ing pros­e­cuted him­self.

Thomas Sow­ell is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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